BYU in the 1970s
In “The Feminine Mystique”, Betty Friedan wrote about the “problem with no name”. Women (mostly middle class white women) had left the workforce after WWII to work full time at home. And yet some women found themselves unfulfilled and often depressed. Some had lost their identity by devoting their lives to their husbands and children.
It’s been years since I read her work, but Friedan argued that with all the time saving devices available, it was not as necessary for women to say home full time.
I’ve been reading the discussion of “Fascinating Womanhood” recently on Feminist Mormon Housewives. I myself own a copy of Fascinating Womanhood. Holly of Self Portrait As has discussed the book before, and even recently had a great article published about it.
I never attended BYU, nor did I attend BYU during the 1970s.
But my Mom did. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so open about her experiences on the internet, but she was in an engineering major until she transferred. I’m not sure why she transferred, exactly, and it may just have been my Mom. She transferred to a degree in social work. And after I was born, she chose to stay home.
But I have read many first person experiences of women from the time, and many were encouraged (subtly or not so subtly) to leave the pre-med/engineering programs to make space for men. The assumption was that they (the men) would need to support their families. The idea was that as soon as a woman got pregnant, she would drop out to stay home with her child.
One of the quotes from the FMH post was:
Rather, the point was, It wasnt like that. The 70s in Utah were actually a very supportive environment for women to get an education and fulfill their potential.
I hope Naismith and others will join us here to continue the conversation.
I would agree with this if fulfilling one’s potential meant finding a way to be a mother, and becoming educated in careers that would compliment being a mom.
I cannot say if things have changed since that time. I’m assuming so, since women can now wear jeans on campus. So it’s possible that I am misinformed about the real discrimination that women might have faced at BYU.
Of course there are vastly different experiences. But I believe some generalizations can be made.
The only reason I bring this up is, it’s important to talk about the past and history as it really happened. Ezra Taft Benson did encourage women to return home in 1986.
Ezra Taft Benson speaking in 1987:
[I]n the Doctrine and Covenants, we read: Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. She cares for and nourishes her children at home. Her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible. With that claim on their husbands for their financial support, the counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children.
We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule.
(please feel free to read the entire talk for context).
I remember quite a few women and their families who agonized over that policy. I remember hearing quite a few testimonies about the topic. This is a choice that many families (from that era) had to struggle with – to reconcile their faith with what was best for their family.
I think it is absolutely appropriate to talk about what those decisions meant for those women and their families, and what those decisions mean today. I disagree that BYU was a supportive environment for women, all their choices and their potential. I disagree it was a supportive environment for men (and all their choices) as well. By discussing the way things were, we are informing the future and how things might change. Why does the discussion about women, their choices and their experiences always seem to devolve into a debate about working at home vs. a career? Is bringing up the past a threat? I think it is true that the person who controls the past controls the present.
Okay, here’s my sense of the scene, not necessarily in Mormonism, but America generally (which informs Mormon discourse). The Family Proclamation came about in 1995 because of intensifying feminist concerns about compulsory motherhood. The point of the proclamation was to make clear that motherhood shouldn’t be understood as “compulsory,” but a space of joy. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that motherhood is compulsory for Mormon women. Julie Beck (president of the Relief Society) tends to say things like: “Faithful daughters of God desire children” as if a woman can’t be Mormon and not a mother within a marriage.
I’ve had long discussions with my mother about Mormonism and feminism and there are two threads that I think are important. The first is the difference between white feminism and feminisms of color as they manifested in the 1970s. For minority women, black woman in particular, who had to work outside their home to support their households, their concern was that they did not have enough time for their children. Women like Friedman were definitely addressing white, middle and upper class women, and the fact that she spoke of “woman” generally is a problem. In the Mormon context, the theology of “stay at home mom” is not for working class people, it is for people for whom the notion of staying at home is conceivable. This is tied a long conversation about the pros/cons of multigenerational childraising, the structure of families outside the “nuclear family,” etc, conversations that in Mormonism are always backseated because the “ideal” is the woman as mother and the father as breadwinner. Sure, Mormons “sacrifice” income to maintain this structure, but that does mean the theology isn’t still classist.
The second thread has to do with the necessary essentialization of “woman” to define her as “mother” or “wife.” My mom has a difficult time teasing apart the differences between gender and sexuality in this regard. For example, even if it is a “proven” ideal that a baby should breastfeed from the woman whose uterus the baby grew in (meaning that if you’re a mother, then you should “want” to stay at home with your child), this does not equal the notion that all women should want to breastfeed children. This is linked to the highly patriarchal (and, to an extent, feminist) idea that sexuality necessarily equals reproduction within marriage. If you’re in the boat that you want to be mother and wife, and someone like Helen Andelin speaks to you, it is still irresponsible (and unethical) to essentialize women. There was a string of white feminists who in the 30s and 40s wrote that women’s job was to “civilize” men (partly in self-protection due to sexually transmitted diseases men might pick up by prostitutes, but also to prevent men from having sex with the “inferior races”): see Marie Stokes’ Married Love, for example. Stokes wrote that sex within marriage should be a joy for both husband and wife (rather than wives being “property”), but she also argued that making children was the ideal result of sexuality. Early on, however, even Freud argued that sexuality was “sexuality” because it was something beyond reproduction. Some male playwrights actually dramatized the idea that motherhood was more important than marriage because marriage was a “box” for women (see Grant’s “The Woman Who Did” or Shaw’s “Getting Married”). This is all to say that the links between gender/sexuality/reproduction/marriage are tenuous at best. Mormon men today will argue that “women naturally civilize men” [within marriage] without recognizing this to be an HISTORICAL construct of gender (both a patriarchal and feminist construct). There is nothing “natural” about Mormon marriages.
I think the 1970s demonstrated a culmination of certain feminisms that had developed over the prior century (e.g, the push toward sexual and intellectual happiness), but the essentialization of woman as “wife” and “mother” (and “white”) was still a major problem in this era.
What I’ve said so far doesn’t even touch upon the contributions of lesbian feminists or socialist feminists (like Alexandra Kollontai who astutely argued in 1920 that the family unit is linked to capitalism. Kollontai: “The worker-mother must learn not to differentiate between yours and mine; she must remember that there are only our children, the children of Russia’s communist workers. …Communist society will take upon itself all the duties involved in the education of the child, but the joys of parenthood will not be taken away from those who are capable of appreciating them.”) Isn’t this great? =D Not that I’m a communist. Kollontai supported “free love,” not sexual encounters that force women into compulsory motherhood. Of course, Kollontai lost her American audience by the late 1940s, when marriage and motherhood were portrayed as “American” and radical socialist ideas about sexuality were portrayed as “godless.” Hmm…not much has changed.
A couple corrections: Stokes’ book came out in 1918, but had an effect over several decades (into the 30s and 40s and beyond) regarding sexual happiness for women in marriage.
Grant was a novelist and not playwright.
Alan, my impression is that The Proclamation came about because the brethren knew that they wanted to oppose marriage equality in Hawaii.
After all, the brethren have done nothing with The Proclamation but fight marriage equality. They have not supported a single initiative that would support mothers and fathers. But the brethren have readily spend millions of dollars against marriage equality.
If actions speak louder than words then the brethren created The Proclamation in 1995 to confront marriage equality, which got on the agenda in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared the discrimination of gays unconstitutional.
Hey, aerin64, does your Mom happen to have any BYU Yearbooks from the 70s? The “Banyan” was grooooovy.
Come to think of it, “BYU in the 1970s” screams funky masthead .
And, hey, I’ve met Betty Friedan and liked her vibe.
The Proclamation on the Family is pretty explicitly about building a justification to oppose gay marriage. Of course, the CoJCoL-dS’s opposition to gay marriage and its opposition to feminism go hand-in-hand. The church’s entire hierarchy is built on a belief in eternal gender roles — that your spirit has an eternal, immutable gender and a corresponding unquestionable role.
When people start getting the idea that a family can do fine with two parents of the same gender, that’s very threatening to their justification for keeping the priesthood (and corresponding leadership roles) out of women’s hands.
Chino — lol, super-funky!
I disagree with this interpretation, but am open to convincing. I can see this interpretation from a lawyer looking backwards, but this seems to me an “American Mormon” interpretation that is much too “gay-centric,” given that the Church doesn’t even really believe people are truly homosexual anyway. The Proclamation has been translated into several languages and was first read at a general Relief Society meeting. This guy here says that the Proclamation was to address “rising divorce and single parenting,” “working mothers,” “families spread thin due to the ability to live far apart,” “the weakening network of mothers,” “competitive demands coming from outside the family,” and “current attempts to redefine the family by treaty or law.” Sure, the Proclamation comes up, perhaps most publicly, in this last instance, but when Hinckley gave a speech in Tokyo in 1996, he said: “Why do we have this proclamation on the family now? Because the family is under attack. All across the world families are falling apart.” In the American context, I really think feminism would be considered a greater “threat” to “the family” than queer politicking. I agree that the two are inseparable, where you have gender you have sexuality, but given the proclamation is talking about “eternal gender roles,” doesn’t this affect women more particularly?
This strikes me as inaccurate given what I’ve said above. The Proclamation is upheld everywhere the Church is in the world. BYU struggled with developing a curriculum regarding it, and all their courses weren’t titled “How to Stop Those Gayz.”
Alan — I totally agree with a (rather controversial) statement you made in comments on an earlier post, namely that gay marriage is largely a feminist issue. Ultimately, if women are chattel and men can do whatever they want, gay marriage becomes far less relevant.
That said, gay rights and women’s rights are fundamentally and intimately connected when it comes to LDS theology and politics — it boils down to a question of whether gender is (and should be) destiny.
I feel like you want to put your fingers in your ears and say “la la la, this isn’t about me, it’s about the wimmins!” In reality, it’s about both of us, and we’re in this together.
Lol, it’s not that. I’m under the impression that there are more women in the world than gay people, but I suppose that’s no reason to prioritize. There’s a “concern” in some women’s studies departments that gay men make everything about themselves, making everything about sexuality and don’t include gender, remaining vague about how the two are interrelated. There is a similar problem at work concerning the divide between “gay” and “transgender” discourse, and why trans folks often don’t feel “at home” in gay politics. On the other side, I’ve read that gay men have trouble “feeling at home” in some women’s studies departments. So, I’m actually interested in demonstrating how we are in this together, which is why red flags go up for me when folks talk about a proclamation on “eternal gender” in terms of sexual minority politics and not gender politics.
OK, so I guess we’re in agreement after all. 😉
1 – Thanks Alan for your comments. I (personally) have a special place in my heart for Alexandra Kollontai. I really thought only Russian history majors (and perhaps people from Finland) knew about her. She was so much more than the glass of water theory (i.e. free love), and I believe that was something used by the communist leadership to discredit her and her ideas.
4 – Chino – I have no idea if my parents have a copy of those yearbooks, I’m thinking probably not.
Why 1995? That’s an interesting choice from my perspective. I think society had really started to change before then, at least here in the states, and that change has continued until today. Why not 1980?
I understand that it might have more to do with the nature of revelation, but like the tipping point article you wrote before chanson – when is that point?
Ah, right. Tipping point of revelation. The Church likes to put a cap on things: 1995 speaks to the events of the 1980s (the ERA), while 1978 spoke to the events of the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement. So, the argument that the Family Proclamation was intentionally “anti-gay” seems like bad logic to me; it’s more like the doctrine concerning gender just happens to apply to sexual minorities, too. But that’s my perspective.
Ive said this before elsewhere: IMO the church’s opposition to gay marriage is driven by a longer view concern over polygamy, but the GAs will never say so, as that would only draw attention to an embarrassing past they wish all would forget. There will never be enough gay marriage to warrant the concern and efforts the GAs have put into this. But legally recognized USA polygamy would be a can of worms they just cant fathom having to deal with, hence all the focus on legally enshrining the traditional definition of marriage. I dont think they give a rats rear about gay marriage. The intent is to wipe their rears of polygamy forever.
I agree with Steve EM, too. Have you guys been following BCC’s uncorrelated history series? It’s fascinating how much the polygamy problem (and the dispute with the Mormon Fundamentalists) affects the CoJCoL-dS to this day.
The leaders of the CoJCoL-dS absolutely don’t want to see polygamy legalized in the US — it would open a huge can of worms that they don’t want to deal with. And we’ve seen that legalizing gay marriage tends to open the discussion about polygamy.
Ultimately, the CoJCoL-dS has a strong interest in (1) convincing the Mormon women that being happy (authority-less) homemakers is their only true role and (2) convincing everyone that modern Mormon polygamists don’t exist. Gay people have gotten caught in the crossfire — the LDS church’s fight against gay marriage has been a part of the church’s gender relations package since before the proclamation (see Hawaii, as Hellmut pointed out).
To ask which one the proclamation is about — feminism or homosexuality — is the wrong question. Why would/should it be about one and not the other? It’s about the way marriage has changed over the past few decades, hence it’s about both.
The polygamy discussion here came to mind when I saw this LTE over at the SL Trib today:
I’ve pointed this out to fMh numerous times, but here it is for MSP:
Eternal Marriage Student Manual – Mothers’ Employment Outside the Home
The last edition of that manual was published in 2003. Note that the quotes used span from 1970-1998.
I don’t have any commentary on BYU in the 1970s since I wasn’t even born yet back then, but given the position that the church has repeatedly articulated on mothers working outside the home, I have a hard time believing it was the mommyhood feminist utopia that Naismith makes it out to be. I can believe that mothers who wanted to finish their education were nurtured and encouraged; I have a harder time believing that married women who expressed a desire to have a full-time career got the same encouragement.
I attended BYU from 2001-2005. Though most of my teachers were male, I never sensed much of a patronizing patriarchal vibe from them (at least not over my gender); I was only ever encouraged in my studies and encouraged to pursue a career in my chosen field. Then again, I’m outspoken and assertive and not Mormon, and I didn’t grow up in a religious culture where my leaders were constantly conditioning me to believe that women have “separate roles” and that stay-at-home-motherhood is priority #1, so maybe they backed off, or maybe I just didn’t notice it. I was talking to a former professor last week who mentioned that his wife is about to go back to school to finish her PhD now that their youngest is in kindergarten, and he said, “She’s like you. Way too smart and too intellectual; she gets bored being stuck inside, watching Teletubbies with the kids all day.” Made me happy to hear.
I also talked with another professor (this one not LDS) who lamented to me that so many of his brilliant female graduate students abandon their training to become full-time SAHMs and never make contributions to the field after they graduate. He seemed to feel that the cultural Mormon pressure for women to lay aside their careers in favor of staying at home with the kids is still pretty high. I happen to think he’s right, although there are plenty of good teachers at BYU itself who buck this trend.
BTW, the thought occurs to me that what my teacher said re: Teletubbies could be taken to mean “SAHMs are stupid.” I don’t think that’s what he meant though; only that the vocation in itself typically isn’t very intellectually stimulating. That was my experience with 3 years of doing it.
Hmmm…I spent two months at BYU in the 70s. January and February of 1975, to be precise. And I found the environment there to not be supportive at all of women getting an actual education. Which is one of the reasons I got the hell out of Dodge (or, Provo) after two months.
I was criticized for taking actual academic classes rather than loading up on things like “Socal Dance”. I was laughed at for actually studying. And I was let know on a fairly constant basis that the real reason I should be there was to catch an RM to marry.
Gah. I hated that place. I remember walking across campus one day not long before I left and seeing two young men standing near the administration building, talking. As I walked passed them, I heard one exclaim to the other, “No shit?”, and I wanted to run up and hug them both because they were actual individuals, not like all the cut-out Peter Priesthoods and Molly Mormons I’d been surrounded by while I was there.
You know, no offense meant to those of you reading this who attended the Zoo and liked it, but I found the environment there in the 1970s to be stifling.
How is this a can of worms? I was under the impression that the Wilford revelation was along the lines of “God doesn’t want the Church to disappear, so polygamy will have to disappear for now”… which means, at any moment, it could return. The issue of the cover-up of post-revelation polygamy just doesn’t strike me as that debilitating. Am I missing something? If polygamy were legalized after gay marriage, then it would no longer take the 1-male-x-females form; the state likely wouldn’t be in the marriage business at that point, because marriage would no longer have a sensible blueprint. This is, of course, a science fiction universe I’m speaking of, but I’m failing to see how legalized polygamy is so disruptive.
Also, one of the primary forces that tore down polygamy was 19th century feminism, and I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of that kind of feminism (among men and women) to go around in Mormon culture.
Gay marriage was on the Mormon agenda AT LEAST as early as 1980. As aerin asked @10, why not 1980 for the Proclamation? Well, in 1980, the Church released the pamphlet explaining its position on the Equal Rights Amendment, wherein the fear of gay marriage was on the agenda (see #9). So, again, as chanson as also been arguing, I’m really wanting to push people away from the notion that the Church has a vendetta against gay people particularly or that the 1995 Proclamation is about gays more particularly. The issue has always been a simultaneous gender/sexuality one, but can seem like its geared more toward sexuality now because of the progress of queer politics.
As to the last question, only the last one hundred years of assimilation 😉
I think Romney may have actually been telling the truth for a change when he said he couldn’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy. Its return would finish off the LDS brand.
Exactly, and a huge part of the core membership of the LDS would expect polygamy to return if it were legal. At the same time — given the 100 years of assimilation Chino mentions — another huge portion of the membership would be horrified by the return of polygamy. Whichever the CoJCoL-dS chooses (welcome polygamy back or refuse polygamy, even if it’s legal), there will be a schism, and they’ll lose a lot of members (and credibility). They’re much better off if they never, ever have to answer that question (hence can o’ worms).
#20 chanson – do you think that the support for polygamy is geographic? There are parts of the world where polygamy is legal, or not prosecuted, and the LDS church (SLC) hasn’t tried to re-establish polygamy in the places where it’s legal.
Growing up outside Utah, I never heard that Joseph Smith had wives (other than Emma), and never heard people openly vocalize support for a time when polygamy would be brought up. Granted, I was young. I was always told that it had been established because of the number of women or young widows, and since we didn’t have those any more, it wouldn’t return.
So it wouldn’t surprise me that there would be a schism of sorts, but I wonder if there is more or less support depending on how far someone lives from SLC.
FWIW, I cant fathom the GAs ever bringing back polygamy. But has others have eluded to, the manifesto doesnt read as a revelation but rather as an explanation that the church was dropping polygamy to comply with US law enforcement. IMO, only LDS deceiver types speak of the manifesto as revelation rather than policy. The church never abandoned polygamy doctrinally, never decanonized D&C 132, etc. If those laws were reversed, the GAs would need a revelation saying bye-bye to section 132, etc to justify keeping polygamy out of the church. The church would lose much credibility in the process. It would be a mess. Whatever the outcome, the LDS church would end up much smaller, with most leaving over loss of faith in the church, not desire to be 21st century polygamists. In short, the current LDS global ban on polygamy is all derived from anti-polygamy USA law enforcement of more than a century ago. Now the law situation has eroded to the point were left with the legal equivalent of the Dutch boy ineffectively plugging the leaking dike doomed to give way, unless the LDS succeed in their alliance with other socially conservative denominations to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage into law, hence the effort we’ve seen to date to do just that.
Steve, I suggest you read Wilford’s own words on the matter. He said: “The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice.” So, I agree it was a policy change and not a doctrinal change, but it came in the form of revelation. When gay marriage was compared to Mormon polygamy as an irony of shared deviance (in that 2006 interview on gay stuff), Dallin Oaks said something to the effect of “It’s irony if one doesn’t affirm our belief in divine revelation.” He then went on to say that his ancestors didn’t like to be polygamous, and they did it because they had to, ect, etc…but everyone knows most of those 19th century men loved having multiple wives, which is why it continued into the 20th century. I agree that the US halted the practice, but Wilford received revelation to affirm adhering to the law. Why are you thinking that making it about revelation is deceiving?
Ok, so WW received a self evident “revelation” of what would happen (in actuality had already happened) if the LDS ignored USA law enforcement. WW them implemented the manifesto as policy. That revelation and policy change didnt reverse polygamy doctrinally didnt decanonize section 132, etc. So if the USA law is reversed, which seems only a matter of time in the absence of constitutional amendment(s) enshrining a traditional definition of marriage, the manifesto could no longer be sincerely cited as a revelation or doctrine banning LDS polygamy. Granted, based on LDS history, I would expect some LDS deceiver types (people who deal from the bottom of the deck) to make that claim (that the manifesto banned LDS polygamy forever), but I dont think it would fly with many LDS. Many would loss faith, seeing the LDS as just another church of man.
I think the typical LDS today are far more educated and questioning than when HJG pulled four donts out of his rear as a barrier to entry into the church citing Section 89 WofW and never bothered issuing his own revelation on the matter to put the new policy into the LDS canon. WWs manifesto alone cant hold back the dike.
I was an Agronomy major at BYU, so most of my classes were 90% male. Having taken classes part-time and gotten some credits for my military service (PE, for example) when I showed up on the Provo campus, I didn’t take any of the typical freshman classes. And I wasn’t in a BYU ward for the first few years I was there.
So it is possible that I may have missed some cultural pressure that other young women experienced. I don’t know. I do know that my neighbors who were moms were going to school part time, finishing dissertations, etc.
It is true that they didn’t have a university-sponsored daycare center, if one sees that as essential to feminist utopia, but I found neighbors to provide excellent care for my children when I was at class. And when one moved, they would hand-pick their replacement, a judgment I never disagreed with.
“I can believe that mothers who wanted to finish their education were nurtured and encouraged;”
Which really was my claim. That is not the case on other campuses, neither the place I went to grad school nor the one where I am currently employed. In that, I think it was very much in line with THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE.
“I have a harder time believing that married women who expressed a desire to have a full-time career got the same encouragement.”
Honestly, I don’t know anyone back then who DIDN’T think they were going to have a career, at some point. All of us knew that we would be in the workforce before children, after children, and even perhaps part-time during. The only question was whether we would continue while we actually had young children. I knew that I would not if I could help it, because my pregnancies are ghastly. And so I appreciated that they thought my education was important even if I was going to be at home for the few short years that children are little.
But Mary Ann Wood in the law school was held up as something of a role model; in introducing her before a lecture, then-President Oaks noted that she and her husband had a nursery between their offices in the law school so that they could both parent and teach.
And Marilyn Arnold was serving as an administrator then, and she gave several talks about all the young divorced women she counseled who were sorry to have dropped out when pregnant–a lot of emphasis on finishing the degree.
Also a lot of mention of getting the most education so one can be gone from home the least amount of hours. I had a neighbor who was living that principle: As a nurse anesthetist (they earn more than family practice MDs), she only worked a few shifts each week at the hospital, always when her husband was home to watch the kids. They managed very well on her salary; dad never needed a job.
I can see that, Naismith. I had a good time at BYU as well and found the faculty to be brilliant and open minded. Of course, I was there as a graduate student.
Now, some of my friends report that the faculty are not the problem. The problem are the undergrads and the administrators.
I have seen female faculty on the verge of tears twice because students were telling them that they ought to listen to the prophet and stay home.
I don’t know whether this story is true but I have heard about one case where the administration wanted to deny a female candidate employment because her husband was a stay at home dad. Supposedly, they reversed that decision when somebody pointed out that they were risking the university’s accreditation.
Might just be a rumor but sounds plausible on the face of it.